Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Getting it Wrong, Getting it Right

What a wretched job the Baltimore Sun did in reporting on a Maryland Senate committee’s vote to approve the appointment of Thomas Miller III as Anne Arundel County District Court judge. Miller is the son of Senate President Thomas “Mike” Miller.

That in itself is newsworthy, that the Democratic governor appointed the son of the Democratic Senate President as a judge. But the Sun utterly missed reminding the public what made this nomination controversial if not odorous.

The story did mention that three members of the county judicial nominating commission resigned when Miller’s name was forwarded to Governor Martin O’Malley for consideration in 2008.

But it failed to report that the commission had first found young Miller not qualified. It reversed itself when O’Malley ordered them to forward more names from the same list it had already considered, following by some heavy politicking from “political types” on behalf of Miller. This is what prompted the resignations, something I found both unusual and brave at the time.

With the Sun reporting every move by Attorney General Douglas Gansler to rid the state of judicial elections, it needs to report the other side of the coin, the smarminess of leaving the choices to politicians.

On the other hand, how refreshing it was to see the Sun’s Michael Dresser dress down House Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario for his rudeness, distortion of facts, and inability to separate his profession as a defense attorney from the public interest.

It’s great that Vallario takes a hard look at bills promoted by law enforcement types and politicians. Many of them aren’t really necessary or are flawed because they were hastily drafted in response to some high profile tragedy.

But Vallario consistently stands in the way of beneficial legislation based on his bias as a defense attorney. And it’s a bias, all right.

Take a bill he actually allowed to become law some years back, a little provision that deprived the Circuit Court of the power to try a misdemeanor drug case. Only the District Court can try these cases unless the defendant decides to take it to the Circuit Court or the drug charge is part of a more serious case.

This was a new and curious exception to the broad jurisdiction always granted to the Circuit Court and had only one conceivable motivation: to deprive prosecutors of the ability to combine drug possession cases with more serious cases at the Circuit Court. District Court judges would have to make sentencing decisions without knowledge of the other cases. Divide and conquer.

Vallario never would have let a bill pass that stripped defense attorneys of the chance to choose their court. But it was okay to do it to prosecutors to give the defense an advantage.

And now he can’t bring himself to require citizens charged with traffic violations to request a trial, even if they already do it for parking tickets. Although it would save the taxpayers money and allow police officers to spend more time on the street, Vallario won't make a defendant check a box and use a stamp. And he’s rude to the police chiefs who dared to suggest such a thing, to boot.

It’s way past time for the House Speaker to find another chairman without a conflict of interest. Good for Dresser for having the guts to suggest as much on the Sun pages.

Related prior articles:
The Politics of Picking Judges

No comments:

Post a Comment